Observe here, 1. The author and penman of this epistle described by his name, James; by his office, a servant of God, and of the Lord Jesus Christ: that is, by special office, as a dispenser of his gospel. It is the highest honor that can be conferred upon the greatest person, to be the servant of Christ, especially in the quality of an ambassador.
Note also, how St. James stiles himself the servant of God, and of the Lord Jesus Christ. Some read the words conjoined, others disjoined: conjoined thus, James, a servant of Jesus Christ, who is God and Lord; and thus the fathers urged this text against the Arians, to prove the Divinity and Godhead of Christ; others read the words disjoined, thus James, a servant of God, and of our Lord Jesus Christ. This latter reading seems most natural, and less strained, and affords an argument for proving the Divinity of Christ no less weighty than the former; for as the Father is Lord as well as Jesus Christ, so Jesus Christ is God as well as the Father, and God will have all to honour the Son as they honour the Father.
Observe, 2. The persons to whom this epistle is directed, to the twelve tribes scattered abroad; that is, to such and so many of the Jews as were converted to Christianity, and were now dispersed and scattered into several countries and nations; to them is St. James excited and moved by God to write and direct this excellent epistle.
Here note, by the way, these three things: 1. That God's own people in general may be dispersed and driven abroad from their own countries and habitations; it is no new thing to suffer in this kind, Hebrews 11:38 those, of whom the world was not worthy, wandered in deserts and mountains, woods and caves.
Note, 2. The severity of God towards this people of the Jews, in particular; they were a sinning people, a sinful people, weary of God, sick of his worship, severe to his Son; and God grows sick and weary of them, and according to his threatening, Deuteronomy 28:64 scattered them from one end of the earth unto the other, among all people.
Lord! how dangerous and unsafe it is to rest upon, and glory in our outward privileges! None had more, none had greater privileges than the Jews, yet for their sins the land spewed them out, and God dispersed them, yea, made them a hissing and a by-word among the nations.
Note, 3. The tenderness of God's love and care towards the faithful amongst them in and under this dispersion, he stirreth up St. James to write to the scattered tribes, and to apply seasonable comforts to them, and to all Christians with them in a suffering state, which accordingly he does throughout this whole epistle.
Our apostle's design in this epistle being to support the believing Jews under their great sufferings for the cause of Christianity, he first acquaints them with the nature of those sufferings which they might expect to fall under for the same; he calls them temptations, that is, trials, they are correcting trials for sin, and they are experimental trials of the truth of grace, and of the strength of grace; the affliction of God's children are trials castigatory, probatory trials.
Note, 2. The advice given in these trials, to count it joy, all joy, when they fall into temptations, yea, into divers temptations; not that afflictions are in themselves joyous, the temptation or trial is not matter of joy, but of sorrow and heaviness considered in itself, but because of their good effects and sweet fruits, in proving our faith, and increasing our patience; but mark, he says, when ye fall into temptations, not when ye run yourselves into them, or draw them upon yourselves; we lose the comfort of our sufferings, when, either by guilt or by imprudence, we bring them upon ourselves.
Note here, that trials, how evil and afflictive soever in themselves, and in their own nature, yet administer occasion of great joy to sincere Christians, We glory in tribulation Romans 5:3; it denotes the highest joy, even to exultation and ravishment; there is joy resulting from the consideration of the glory that rebounds to God, of the honour done to us, of the benefit done to the church, and to ourselves, by confirming the faith of others; evidencing the sincerity of grace to ourselves, preparing us for, and giving us a swifter passage to heaven.
Note, 3. Our apostle's argument to press them to joy and rejoice under their afflictions; and this is taken, 1. From the nature of them, they are trials of faith. 2. From the effect and fruit of them, they beget or work patience.
Learn hence, 1. That the afflictions which the people of God meet with, are trials of all their graces, but especially of their faith. This is a radical grace: we live by faith, we work by love: now of graces, Satan has a particular spite agianst the Christian's faith, and God has a particular care for the preservation and perfection of it, Knowing the trial of your faith worketh patience; that is, it administers matter and occasion for patience, and, by the blessing of God upon it, it produces and increases patience; often trial puts us upon frequent exercises, and the frequent exercise of grace strengthens the habits of grace: Consequently the more our trials are, the stronger will our patience be: Knowing that the trial of your faith worketh patience: it follows, James 1:4.
That is, "Let your patience and perseverance under sufferings resolutely continue and hold out to the end;" this the apostle urges, because some persons bore out the first brunt and onset of persecution, but being exercised with diversity and length of trials, they fainted. Now, as if the apostle had said, "If we will be complete Christians, our patience must run parallel with our sufferings: thus shall we be perfect, not with an absolute perfection, but with a perfection of duration and perseverance."
Learn, that afflictions sanctified by God do tend exceedingly, not only to the increasing, but perfecting of a Christian's patience.
Quest. But when has patience its perfect work, making the Christian perfect and entire?
Ans. When there is a strong faith, as the foundation of that patience;
when there is a Christian fortitude and courage, enabling us to sustain trials; when there is an exact knowlege of our duty to bear afflictions with a meek and quiet spirit, with a forbearing and forgiving spirit, yea, with a praying spirit, which includes the height of charity, under the highest provocations; in a word,
when there is found with us an entire trust and dependency upon God's power and promise, and a cheerful submission, and quiet resignation of our wills his most holy, wise, and righteous will, in and under the sharpest trials and heaviest afflictions that can befall us; then has patience had its perfect work, and the suffering Christian, in a gospel qualified sense, may be said to be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
Observe here, 1. A truth necessarily supposed, that every man, more or less, lacketh wisdom to enable him patiently to bear, and prudently to manage, the afflictions of this life; and that there is need of great wisdom to enable us to glorify God in a sufffering hour.
Observe, 2. The person directed to, in order to the obtaining of divine wisdom, of the patient bearing of afflicitons; Let him ask it of God. He that wants wisdom let him go to the fountain of wisdom. God gives not his blessings ordinarily without asking, and the best of blessings may be had for asking; of the two it is much better to ask and not receive, than to receive and not ask.
Observe, 3. A great encouragement for all that lack wisdom to go unto God for it, drawn first from the bountiful manner of his giving, He giveth liberally, without upbraiding.
Secondly, from the certainty of the gift, It shall be given him. God's liberality in giving what we ask, and many times more than we ask, yea, more than we can either ask or think, is a mighty encouragement to faith and fervency in prayer, to perseverance and importunity in praying; especially if we consider what is added, that as God giveth liberally, so he upbraideth not; that is, he neither upbraids them with their frequency and importunity in asking, nor yet with their great unworthiness of receiving; but instead thereof, subjoins an assurance of granting. It shall be given him. It is a mighty encouragement to pray, when we consider there is not only bounty in God, but bounty engaged by promise.
Observe, 4. The condition required on our part must be observed and fulfilled, as well as the promise made on God's part: But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering.
Quest. What is it to ask in faith?
Ans. The person praying must be in a state of believing: the petitioner must be a believer; the thing asked for must be an object of faith, by being the subject matter of some promise; a fervent prayer for that which God never promised is a foul sin.
Again, the manner of asking must be faithful, with a pure intention of God's glory, with cheerful submission to God's will, with fiducial recumbency upon God's promise with great fervency and warmth of spirit; he that will prevail with Jacob, must wrestle with Jacob for a blessing.
Observe, 5. The evil and danger of wavering and doubting in the matter of prayer; the evil of it is this, that it is perplexing and tormenting of the mind: He that wavereth is driven and tossed like a wave of the sea; an elegant similitude to set out the nature of doubting, when upon our knees in duty. And the danger of it is expressed, Let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.
Note, that doubtful and unbelieving persons when they pray, though they receive something, yet they can expect nothing. Let him not think to receive any thing; if he does, it is more than could be expected, because more than God has promised. Doubting in prayer is a provocation, how can he expect his prayer should be either heard or answered? Let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.
By a double-minded man, we are to understand one that is divided in his own thoughts between two different ways and opinions, as if he had two minds, or two souls. Many such there were in the apostles' days, judaizing brethren, that sometimes would sort with the Jews, sometimes with the Christians. Many such there are in our days, divided betwixt God and the world, between holiness and sin; like a needle between two load stones, always wavering to and again, pointing frequently to both, but never fixed to either. Such a man, says our apostle, is unstable in all his ways; that is, in all his actions.
Learn hence, that whilst men's minds are divided between God and their lusts, they must necessarily lead very anxious, uncertain, and unstable lives, always fluctuating in great anxiety and uncertainty; for he is always at odds with himself, and in perpetual variance with his own reason. Where men's minds are double, their ways must necessarily be unstable.
Our apostle having finished his necessary digression concerning prayer, in the foregoing verses, returns now to his former argument, concerning bearing affliction with joy; and urges a strong reason here to enforce the duty, Let the brother of low degree; that is, such a Christian as is brought low by persecution and sufferings for Christ, let him rejoice that God has exalted him, and made him rich in faith, and an heir of the kingdom: nothing is more certain, than that the greatest abuses and sufferings for Christ, are an honour and exaltation to us; he adds, But let the rich rejoice in that he is made low, that is, when he loses any thing for Christ; as if the apostle had said, "Let the poor Christian rejoice, in that he is spiritually exalted, and the rich man rejoice, in that he is spiritually humbled; a rich man's humility is his glory."
Observe next, the apostle rendereth a reason why the rich man should have a lowly mind, in the midst of his flourishing conditon, because all the pomp and grandeur of riches fades like a flower; and he himself also is beautiful, but fading; fair, but vanishing: and he pursues this similitude of a flower in the eleventh verse, shewing, that as the flower fadeth presently before the heat of the scorching sun, so the rich man fades, and all his riches are both transitory and passing.
Learn hence, that it ought to comfort a Christian that suffers loss for Christ by persecution, to consider, that the things which he loseth for the sake of Christ, are things of a fading nature, which could not have been kept long by him, had they not been rent from him; by parting with that which he could not keep, he makes sure of that which he can never lose; well therefore may the rich man rejoice in his humiliation; Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted, and the rich that he is made low.
Here the apostle exhorts suffering Christians to patience, by the example of the Old-Testament saints, who were exceeding dear to God, employed in special services for God, yet exercised with long and sharp affliction for him. Now, their nature was as tender and as frail as ours, and we have the same blessed Spirit to comfort and assist us with them.
Note thence, 1. That the examples of excellent persons who have gone in the thorny path of affliction before us, and beaten it for us, are for excellent use to suppress our fears, to support our spirits under all our conflicts, and to rouse our courage in all our encounters.
Note, 2. That it is our great duty to eye the encourging examples of those that have trod the path of sufferings before us, and strive to imitate and follow such worthy patterns. The first sufferers had the hardest task; strange and untried torments are most terrible; they knew not the strength of their enemy which they were to engage, but we fight with an enemy which has been often beaten and triumphed over by our brethren that went before us; certainly we that live in these last times have the best helps ever any had to subdue our fears; Take we then the prophets, and primitive saints, for an example both of grievous sufferings and of great patience.
In these words the apostle lays down a forcible argument, to persuade Christians to bear sufferings and persecutions with invincible patience, drawn from the blessedness which attends such a condition: Blessed is the man that endureth temptations, &c.
Note here, 1. The character of the person whom God pronounceth blessed; namely, not the man that escapeth temptations and trials in this life, but he that bears them with courage and constancy, with patience and submission.
Note, 2. A description of that ample reward which shall be conferred upon such sufferers; They shall receive the crown of life.
Where observe, the felicity of a future state is set forth by a crown to denote the transcendency and perfection of it; and by a crown of life, to denote the perpetuity and duration of it.
Note, 3. Here is an intimation of the time when this transcendent reward shall be dispensed, namely, when the suffering Christian has finished his course with patience and perseverance: When he is tried he shall receive the crown of life.
Learn from the whole, that a patient and constant enduring of trials and afflicitons in this life, shall certainly be rewarded with a crown of blessedness and immortality in the life to come; Blessed is the man that endureth temptation, &c.
There are three sorts of temptations spoken of in scripture, temptations of seduction, temptations of suggestion, and temptations of affliction; the last were spoken of, in the former verses, Blessed is the man that enduredth temptation: the second sort are spoken of in this verse, Let no man say when he is tempted to sin, I am tempted of God, for God cannot be tempted by it, neither tempteth he any man to it.
Note here, 1. That God is to the author of sin, nor tempts any man to the commission of it; if he did our evil actions could not be properly sins, nor justly punishable by God; for no man can be justly punishable for that which he cannot help and no man can help that which he is compelled unto: and it is very unreasonable to suppose, that the same person should both tempt and punish. To tempt unto sin, is contrary to the holiness of God: and after that to chastise for complying with the temptation, is contrary to the justice of God; God then is not the author of the sins of men.
Note, 2. That men are very apt to charge their sin upon God, and to lay their faults at his door. Let no man say so; intimating, that men are very ready and apt to say so; and that it is to only a fault, but an impious assertion, to say that God tempts any man to sin. Let no man say: he speaks of it as a thing to be rejected with the utmost detestation, a thing so impious and dishonourable to God.
Note, 3. The reason and argument, which the apostle brings against this impious suggestion, God cannot be tempted of evil, neither tempteth he any man; that is, he cannot be drawn to any thing that is evil himself, and therefore it cannot be imagined he should have any inclination or design to seduce others: he can have not temptation to sin from his own inclination, for he has a perfect antipathy against it; and there is no allurement in sin to stir up any inclination in God toward it, for it is nothing but crookedness and deformity: and how can he be supposed to entice men to that which his own nature does abominate and abhor? For none tempts others to be bad, but those who are first so themselves.
Inference, 1. No doctrine then ought to be asserted, or can be maintained, which is contrary to the natural notions which men have of God, as touching his holiness, justice, and goodness.
Inference, 2. If God tempts not us, let us never tempt him: this we do, when we tempt his providence, expecting its protection in an unwarrantable way: as when we are negligent in our calling, and yet depend upon God's providence to provide for our families, which is to approve our folly, and to countenance our sloth.
Note, 4. The true account which our apostle gives of the prevalency and efficacy of temptation upon men, it is their own innate corruption, and vicious inclination, which doth seduce them to it. Every man is tempted, when he is drawn aside of his own lust and enticed.
Mark, he does not ascribe it to the devil; he may and does present the object,and by his instruments may and does solicit for our compliance: his temptations have a moving and exciting power, but can have no prevailing efficacy but from our own voluntary consent; it is our own lusts closing with his temptations which produce the sin: for God's commanding to us to resist the devil, supposes that his temptations are not irresistible.
Learn hence, that man's worst enemy, and most dangerous tempter, is the corruption of his own heart and nature; because it is the inmost enemy, and because it is an enemy that is least suspected: a man's lust is himself, and nature teaches us not to mistrust ourselves: what reason have we then perpetually to pray, that God would not lead us into temptation, but keep us by his good providence out of the way of temptation, because we carry about us such lusts and inclinations as will betray us to sin when powerful temptations are presented to us! There is no such way then to disarm tempations, and take away the power of them, as by mortifying our lusts, and subduing our vicious inclinations.
Note, 5. The account which our apostle gives of the pedigree, birth, and growth of sin: when lust, that is, our corrupt inclinations, and vicious desires, have conceived, that is, gained the consent and approbation of the will, it bringeth forth and engageth the soul in sin: and sin when it is finished in the deliberate outward action, and especially when, by customary practice, it becomes habitual, bringeth forth death, the wages of sin; the first approaches of sin are usually modest, but afterwards it makes bolder attempts: our wisdom is to resist the first beginnings of sin for then we have most strength, and sin least; to suppress sin in the thoughts, to mortify lust in the heart, before it breaks forth in the life, and at last issue and terminate in death: for when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin; and sin when it is finished, bringeth forth death.
As if he had said, "Be not deceived about the causes of good and evil; sin and death are certainly from ourselves. Let us therefore never ascribe either our sins or our temptations unto God: but every good and perfecting gift is of God's free donation and grace, even from above, from the Father of lights, (both of the light of nature, and the light of grace), with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning from good to evil; he is unchangeable in his nature and being, and in his attributes and properties."
Learn hence, 1. That we are very prone to err in our notions and apprehensions, as touching the authors of good and evil; too ready to conclude either God or Satan to be the author of the sin we commit, and ourselves the authors of the good we do: Do not err my beloved brethren, in this matter.
Learn, 2. That as sin, which is nothing but evil and imperfection, is not from God, but wholly from ourselves, and our own corrupt hearts; so whatever is good, perfect, or praiseworthy, is wholly from God, and not from ourselves; we are neither by nature inclined to that which is good, nor are we able of ourselves to perform it; both inclination and ability are from God, who is the fountain of goodness and perfection, and can never cease to be so, for with him is no variableness, nor shadow of turning.
Learn, 3. That God being the infinite Father of lights, he hath no eclipses or decreases, no shadows or mixtures of darkness, but always shines with a settled and constant brightness, always is, and was, and to all eternity will be, immutably the same, and never undergo the least change, either of his essence and being, or of his properties and perfections: With whom is no variableness, nor shadow of turning.
As nothing argues greater imperfection than inconstancy and change, so the greater and more glorious the divine perfections are, the greater blemish and imperfection would mutability be; were God changeable, it would darken all his other perfections, and raise the foundation of all religion; for who could either fear or love, trust or serve that being who is fickle and inconstant! What security could there be in his promises? And who would regard the terror of his threatenings, were he not invariable, and without shadow of changing.
These words are very expressive of four things, namely, of the efficient cause, the impulsive cause, the instrumental and the final cause fo our regeneration.
Observe, 1. The author and efficient cause of regeneration; he that is the Father of lights, mentioned in the foregoing verse, begat us.
Note, that God, and God alone, is the prime efficient cause of regenration; it is subjectively in the creature, it is efficiently from God: Christ appropriates this work to God, Matthew 11:23. The Scriptures appropriates it to God, Psalms 34:9, called his saints, and God himself appropriates it to himself, I will put my spirit within them, &c. Ezekiel 36:27
Observe, 2. The impelling, impulsive, and moving cause of regeneration, his own will: Of his own will begat he us; by his mere motion, induced by no cause, but the goodness of his own breast, of his own will, and not naturally, as he begat the Son from eternity; of his own will, and not necessarily, by a necessity of nature, as the sun enlightens and enlivens, but by an arbitrariness of grace; of his own will, and not by any obligation from the creature; by the will of God, and not for the merit and desert of man.
Observe, 3. The instrumental cause of our regeneration, the word of truth, that is, the gospel, which is the great instrument in God's hand for producing the new birth in the souls of his people.
Here note, the gospel is called truth by way of excellency, the word of truth, that is, the true word; and also by way of eminency, as containing a higher and more excellent truth than any other divine truth; the gospel declares the truth of all the Old Testament types.
Observe, 4. The final cause of our new birth, that we should be a kind of first-fruits of his creatures, that is, of his new creatures, the chief among his creatures; the first-fruits were the best of every kind to be offered to God, and were given as God's peculiar right and portion; thus the new creature is God's peculiar portion taken out of mankind, which being consecrated to God by a new begetting, they ought to serve him with a new spirit, new thankfulness, as lying under the highest obligations unto new obedience.
As if the apostle had said, "Seeing God has put such an honour upon his word, the word of truth, as by it to beget us to himself; therefore be swift to hear it, prize it highly, and wait upon the means of grace readily and diligently; but be slow to speak, that is, to utter your judgments of it, much more slow in undertaking to be a teacher and dispenser of it; also slow to wrath, or to contentions about the words and points of divinity: wrath and passion hinders all profit by the word, either preached, read, or discoursed about; and a forcible reason is rendered why all wrath should be suppressed, because the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God; that is, man's sinful anger will never put him upon doing those things that are just and righteous in God's account: or there is a figure in the words; more is intended than expressed; the meaning is, that the wrath of man is so far from working the righteousness of God, that it worketh all manner of evil."
Learn hence, that man's anger is usually evil, and very unrighteous: anger justly moderated, is a duty, but such a duty as is very difficultly managed without sin; rash, causeless, and immoderate anger, gratifies the devil, dishonours God, discredits religion, wounds our own peace.
These words are a direction given for the right hearing of, and due profiting by the word of God.
In order to the former, our apostle shews, 1. What we must lay aside, namely, all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness; that is, all sensual lusts, and angry passions.
And, 2. Receive with meekness, calmness, and submission, the engrafted word; that is, the word planted and sown in our hearts by the hands of Christ's ministers: which is able to save our souls, that is, from hell and damnation; yet does not the word save of itself, but God by the word; the power of the word is not intrinsical, but extrinsical, derived from God, whose the word is.
Learn hence, 1. That as all sin in general, so anger, wrath, and malice in particular, ought to be laid aside by us at all times, but then especially when we go forth to hear the word of God.
Learn, 2. That the word must be received with all meekness of spirit, if we would hear it with profit and advantage; there must not be found with us either a wrathful fierceness, or a proud stubbornness, or a contentious wrangling, but humility and brokenness of spirit, dociblilty and tractableness of spirit, under the word, otherwise all our hearing will be an addition to our sin, and an aggravation of our condemnation.
Learn, 3. That he word must not only be apprehended and received by us, but implanted and engrafted in us, or it will never be able to save our souls; receive the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.
Quest. But how may we know when the word is an engrafted word?
Ans. When it is a fruitful word, The word of the truth of the gospel is come unto you, and bringeth forth fruit Colossians 1:6.
Learn, 4. Though hearing of the word be a duty, yet it must not be rested in; be hearers, but not only hearers. Alas! bare hearing of the word is the least part of Christianity, and the lightest part of Christianity; though we be intelligent hearers, though we be very diligent and attentive hearers, though we be affectionate hearers, yea, though we make great proficiency in knowlege by our hearing, yet all this will deceive us at last, if nothing farther be added to it.
Therefore, learn, 5. That the doers of the word are the best hearers, yea, the only hearers in God's account: not to hear at all is atheistical, and produces no religion; to hear, and not to know and be affected with what we hear, is stoical, and breeds a blind religion; to know, and not to do, is Pharisaical, and breeds a lame religion; the practical hearer is the only approved hearer in the account of God: A good understanding have they that do they commandments, Psalms 111:10.
Lastly, without this, all our hearing is but self-deceiving; and this is the most shameful deceit, the most dangerous deceit, and, if timely care and endeavours prevent not, an irreparable and eternal deceit: Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.
In these words our apostle declares the vanity and unprofitableness of a bare hearing of the word, by a similitude taken from a man looking in a glass; though he sees in a glass his own natural face, which he was born with, whilst he is looking in it, yet no sooner is he gone from it, but he forgets the figure and fashion of his own countenance, having had only a slight and transient view of it; so, in like manner, the preaching of the word has not an awakening influence, and leaves not an abiding impression upon most hearers, who are willing to be deceived, and to deceive themselves, by a bare and naked hearing of divine truths.
Learn hence, that the word of God is a glass, or as a glass, in which the soul's complexion may be seen: in this glass we may see both God and ourselves. Christ's beauty, and our own deformity, both our disease, and our remedy.
Learn, 2. That the glass of the word must not be carelessly and cursorily looked into, with a slight and superficial glance, but if we desire to have all the spots and blemishes of our souls thoroughly discovered, we must keep it before our eyes continually, and daily dress our souls by it.
Observe here, 1. The title given to the word of God, particularly the gospel, it is called liberty, a law of liberty, and a perfect law of liberty: partly because it calleth us to a state of liberty and freedom, and teacheth us the way to true liberty, and offers us the assistance of a spirit of liberty; partly because it spareth none, but dealeth with all persons freely, without respect of persons; the gospel, or word of God, then is a law of liberty.
Observe, 2. The duty here required, with reverence to this law of liberty, namely, to look into it, and continue therein, to look into it with an accurate and narrow inspection, as the disciples did into Christ's sepulchre, and as the angels look into the mysteries of salvation, 1 Peter 1:12. To look into the law of liberty, implies deepness of mediation, and liveliness of impression; and continuing therein, imports perseverance in the knowlege, faith and obedience of the gospel, in order to our fruitfulness in good works: If ye abide in me, and my word abide in you, says Christ, ye shall bring forth much fruit, John 15:5; John 15:7.
Observe, 3. The reward promised and insured to such as look into the gospel, that law of liberty, that continue in it, and are doers of the work required by it, they are blessed in their deed; there is a blessedness annexed to the doing of that work which the word of God requires; yet mark the distinctness of Scripture phrase; the apostle doth not say, that the doers of the word shall be blessed for their deed; but in the deed it is an evidence of our blessedness, not the ground of it, the way, though not the cause of blessedness.
Observe here, 1. That there have been, are, and ever will be, many professors of religion, who seem, and only seem to be religious.
Observe, 2. That an unbridled and ungoverned tongue, is a certain sign and evidence of a man's being only seemingly religious; it seems there were many unbridled tongues in the apostle's days, amongst the professors of Christianity, which put the apostle upon spending the whole third chapter about the government of the tongue; the grace and word of God are bridles, which we are to put on, to restrain us from sinful and excessive speaking.
Observe, 3. That such a man as pretends to religion, and seems to be religious, without bridling and governing of his tongue, all his religion is but vain and self-deceiving: Vain, that is, empty; in shew and appearance only, nothing in truth, and in reality: or vain, that is ineffectual; it doth not perform its office, it does not answer its end, their religion will do them no good, stand them in no stead; that faith, that hope, those prayers which will consist with the reigning evils of the tongue, are vain and self-deceiving; that religion, which cannot tame the tongue, will never save the soul; though some evils of the tongue may consist with grace, yet an unbridled tongue cannot consist with it: deceit in our lips is as bad as falsehood in our dealings, and virulence in our tongue as bad as violence in our hands; and if thy religion be vain, all is vain to thee; thy hopes are vain, thy comforts are vain. The sum is, that an unbridled tongue, in a religious professor, is enough to prove his religion is vain.
Observe here, 1. That the apostle doth not set down the whole of religion, but an eminent part and instance of it only: pure religion is this, that is, this is the practice of religion, without which all religion is vain; this is an eminent fruit, which springs from the root of pure religion; if pure religon live in the heart, the fruits of pious charity will appear in the life.
Observe, 2. The acts of charity, when they flow from a religious principle, do commence acts of worship; to visit the widow and fatherless, considered in itself, may be only an act of indifferency and civil courtesy; but when it is performed as an act of duty, in obedience to the command of God, or as an act of mercy and pity, for the supply of their wants by our purse, or for the comforting of their hearts by our counsel; being thus done out of conscience, it is as acceptable to God as an act of worship, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction.
Observe, 3. How the apostle joins charity and purity together; a pretense to the one without the other discovers the insincerity of both; the relieving of the afflicted, and a life unspotted, must go together, or God accept of neither: Pure religion is this, to visit the widow, and keep himself unspotted from the world; that is, from the defilement and pollutions of the world by the lusts thereof; plainly intimating,
1. That the world is a filthy place, a dirty defiling thing. What company almost can you come into, generally speaking, that is not sooty and leprous? How hard is it to converse with them, and not be polluted and infected by them? Even as hard as it is to touch pitch, and not be defiled.
2. That it is our duty, and ought to be our daily endeavour, to keep ourselves as unstained by, and unspotted from the world as we can: and that we may escape the pollutions which are in the world through lust, let us be instant in prayer, diligent in our watch, that if we cannot make the world better, that shall never make us worse.
3. That we should more and more grow weary of the world, and long for heaven, where there is nothing that defileth, where we shall have pure hearts, pure company, every thing agreeable, and this not for a few years, but for everlasting ages. Lord! when shall we ascend on high to live with thee in purity?
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on James 1". Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/
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